Trump says US 'locked and loaded'

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White House officials downplay President's incendiary words on N. Korea

BEDMINSTER, NEW JERSEY:  US President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea yesterday, saying the US military was "locked and loaded" as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.

Mr Trump kept up the war of words on Twitter shortly after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement blaming him for the escalated tensions.

"Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war, making such outcries as 'the US will not rule out a war against the DPRK'," KCNA said.

The US president, who is on holiday at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, described American military readiness in stark terms, Reuters reported.

"Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely," he wrote on Twitter.

"Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump told reporters in New Jersey, without offering specifics: "Let's see what he (Mr Kim) does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody's seen before, what will happen in North Korea."

US allies in the region reacted with alarm to the unusual response from Washington and senior US officials scrambled to play down his comments.

Still, Mr Trump amplified the warning on Thursday, saying maybe his "fire and fury" threat "wasn't tough enough".

US Defence Secretary James Mattis later tempered Mr Trump's harsh words, saying the US still preferred a diplomatic approach to the North Korean threat. A war would be "catastrophic", he said.

Asked if the US was prepared to handle a hostile act by North Korea, Mr Mattis said: "We are ready."

As of late Thursday, two US officials said the threat with regards to North Korea had not changed, additional assets were not being moved into the region and intelligence did not show indications of North Korea preparing a missile launch.

As Pyongyang and Washington traded threats, Germany, Russia and China all weighed in.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday she opposed any use of force to resolve the conflict with North Korea, AFP reported.

"I don't envision a military solution to this conflict but rather consistent work as we've observed at the United Nations Security Council," she told reporters.

"Germany will very intensively take part in the options for resolution that are not military but I consider a verbal escalation to be the wrong response."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that risks of a military conflict are very high and Moscow is deeply worried by the threats from Washington and Pyongyang.

Mr Lavrov encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the US and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises.

"The side that is stronger and cleverer" should take the first step to defuse the crisis, said Mr Lavrov, speaking live on state television at a forum for Russian students.

He added: "Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top.

"We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail." - REUTERS

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